Memoirs of My America – Penny for a Peanut Butter Twist

There we stood: the hobo, the circus clown with the red SOS pad sidehair, Casper the friendly ghost, and Fred Flintstone.

My Colombian family had not been in this country long enough to understand all the essential childhood nuances of Halloween’s Trick or Treat in the 1960′s, especially for a girl:

The Trick or Treat Night Dream List:

My costume will be home made and glittery and have some netting, somewhere

My trick or treat candy bag will be home made and glittery and match my costume

The Please Dear God Basics List:

My costume will fit. 

My costume is one for a girl, if I’m a girl.

I should be able to go with friends, not all of my siblings instead

The Colombian Child’s Lord Kill Me Now List:

I should not be sent out into the dark night with a plastic baggie full of pennies so I can pay the person giving out the candy so that no one can say I took candy from them.

I should not have to go trick or treating with my non English speaking parents only 5 feet away asking “que es eso?” for every candy I get so that I end up translating for both sides explaining what I got, to who gave it to me, not knowing who the heck wants to know anymore.   


My parents could not understand Trick or Treat, and as painful as it was to go along with all the unamericanism they threw into it, my siblings and I begged to be allowed to join the others on this most exciting of nights for children.

Trick or Treat in the late 60′s went on in the pitch black night. We had explained to our mother that we would need costumes. Times then were charming: costumes were sold in the local five and dime stores, all boxed with the cellophane peekhole so you could see what was inside. 

As my parents were out buying the costumes on Halloween day, we watched and waited for their return, squeezed against our front room window. Oh, the hope that we still had..that somehow, our mother and father would come through.

When they came home, we all attacked them at the door, diving into the Ben Franklin Craft Shop bag. We held up the four boxes, and stared at the masks looking up at us from their cozy cellophaned home. The plastic faces that stared back at us were no one we wanted to spend time being.

Our choices for the night were: Mr. 5 o’clock shadow hobo man, white faced Bozo the Clown with blood red cream puffs for hair, Casper, and the god almighty ugly Fred Flintstone.

Where was Snow White? Where was Superman? Where was Cinderella?

All I could think was, god in heaven why is this my life. Followed by the next automatic thought, Oh well let’s just do this.

I don’t think it’ll come as much of a surprise that the only costume that fit me was Fred Flintstone.

Well, at least we wouldn’t be fighting over the least mentally harmful visage, cute dimple cheeked Casper. He came home in size 6X.

We suited up, pulling up the pre-flame retardant regulation nylon costumes that would instantly take you from Little Red Riding Hood to the superhero Human Torch if you got anywhere near a parent’s lit cigarette. My grandmother shook her head muttering about the silliness of it all as she tied the strings at the top of our costumes in a double knot.

Does anyone remember those stiff plastic masks? With the skinniest of elastic bands stapled into place, with scarcely any room for a decent sized nose behind it? Does anyone remember the way your hot breath would turn the non breathable plastic into a Scandinavian steam room within seconds of stepping out into the cold night?

This was after dark, in late October. While your hands and toes and ears were freezing, your face would be getting a moisture beauty treatment. And those half inch horizontal eye slits cut into the masks as a lie that they would allow vision? I still remember looking down and getting my eyelashes caught in the sharp plastic edges. To this day, I thank the god of corneal abrasions for saving my eyesight.

Years later, looking at a picture of all of us on this night, a picture long since lost, I see us lined up tallest to cutest, right before we left the house: Fred (me), Hobo (brother), Bozo (brother), and Cute Casper (baby sister). I looked at this picture, and remembered the feeling of resignation to my lot. At the time, it was equal parts anger mixed with despair. Fred Flintstone! What if some pink sparkly princess from school saw me as Fred Flintstone! Not only was I store bought but I was gender incorrect, too.

If only that was where the story stopped. We were also sent out with a bag of pennies, so that no one could come back to say we took candy from them. The Colombian motto: ”expect revenge from everyone, and give no one a reason to say you owe them something.”

Ding dong, it’s your Colombian connection. Can I give you a penny for that Peanut Butter twist?



Alexandra is an overanalyzing, oversensitive mother of three boys who somehow found herself named as BlogHer ’11′s Voice of The Year for Humor. She has been a mother since 1994, which means she hasn’t been right about anything since. She blogs of the sweet and the funny while trying to go unnoticed in her small town. You can find her at Good Day, Regular People. Did we mention socially awkward? We should, which is why the internet was made for her.


  1. Thanks for this feature, FunnynotSlutty.

    Coming to this site to laugh, one of the best parts of my day.

    FunnynotSlutty, better than that one time in college with that crazy roommate I had..but that’s another story.

    Thanks so much for the space here, Jacki. I love it.

  2. on one level i can appreciate that motto…i did get a little chuckle at your fred…i was a mercenary one year in all camo and some of moms eye liner on my cheeks and face (cheap)… think my mom about passed out when my uncle gave me half his cigar (unlit, with orange spray paint on the tip) to look authentic…yep…halloween can be a little jacked up…smiles.

  3. Great article! Took me into your world as a child for a bit. It’s a shame the photo was lost, though. I was hoping to scroll down and see it posted. :-)

  4. Yes, but look what great stories you have to tell now.

    I was so shy that I would have been absolutely mortified if I had to pay a penny for each piece of candy I got. My parents had to practically force me to say “Trick or Treat?” and “Thank You” with each house we hit.

    I also wore those masks that my eyelashes got caught in and that made me feel like my face was going to sweat completely off.

    And I wore a size 6x for three years before I finally hit a growth spurt!

    Thanks for the chuckle. :)

    • Don’t you just remember the potential for eye lacerations??? Those unvarnished eyehole edges…scared the bejeebus out of me when I’d look down..I didn’t dare look down…

  5. Oh, the pennies…oh dear! I never had a store bought costume, so I can only try to appreciate the anticipation (and angst) of the posiibilities that provided. I will say that it was not wise for an eight year old girl to have her mother sew her a dark brown DOG costume…yes, it was cute to the adults in my world–not my target audience at the time. Every time i tried to be a hobo, it looked more like a clown…a creepy clown!

  6. I bet you were the cutest Fred Flintstone there ever was! Although I feel your embarrassment about the whole thing – I do. The best thing about bad costumes? Not being recognized behind the suffocating mask. Love this, A! Your Colombian childhood stories are the best.

  7. Great recollections of the gap between our childhood Halloween expectations and our Halloween realities. Growing up in central Canada, Oct 31 was often the most miserable night of the year (prior to January) for weather. Snow, or freezing rain, or snow and freezing rain were generally in the forcast. My list of childhood costumes were always “Snowsuit Adaptable”: Spaceman, Deep Sea Diver, Bomb Disposal etc.

    I swore I would one day move to California where TV showed us all costumes were possible, even Tarzan.

    • Do you remember the nylon that would fuzz and run and rip at the slightest movement?

      Oh, my gosh: what we went through..

      But, then costumes were only 5.99 and not 39.99 like they are now.

  8. Hilarious. I had forgotten about the packaging for those costumes, though not the longing. Take it from a kid who spent her childhood in the frozen wilds of upstate NY: getting the Miss America costume didn’t make the holiday a slam dunk either. We used to get all ready to go, only to have our parents zip our parkas up from our knees to our neck. Only those scratchy masks (yes! portable Scandinavian steam rooms!) were visible.

    However, I did get off easy in that I never had to offer pennies in return. Perfect detail.

    • Oh, those days.

      Glad to trigger those you have pictures? I’m sure I’d seethe with jealousy if you have one of a princess outfit. Complete with pointy headed cone with NETTING hanging tauntingly from the tip.

  9. This is just an awesome story love you carrying around pennies and paying for the candy! Once when Siana was a kid trick or treating one house she went to had forgotten to get candy and gave her money instead, now that would be an awesome tradition!

    • Memories, memories are so great.

      My kids get to read them, and now they won’t get lost in my early dementia mind.

      Thanks for stopping by , I love writing these memories here.

      You two, by the way: always keep me smiling with your conversations.

  10. Oh my gosh. Stomach ache from laughing. The god of corneal abrasions. The ‘moisture beauty treatment’. You bring it all back so vividly. Mercifully, like NDK, I was spared the pennies. My most memorable Halloween was as a carrot. Our uncle had made it out of (?) not sure what and spray painted it with too many coats of phosphorescent orange with wiry green ‘leaves’ . None of the paint had fully dried and was tacky. Walking was challenging with the point dragging on the ground between my feet. My mother had to roll me in and out of the back deck of the station wagon. (the rural life) Thanks for the great extended laugh out loud.

    • This one, Anne: oh you have me laughing.

      And my kids, too…a tacky carrot with a hindering point.

      Life, our lives: too ridiculous to be made up.

      Thank you for the laugh here today.


  11. DYING. Just imaging you as the saddest, baddest Fred Flinstone ever.

    And the Colombian connection reference,

    I’m just grateful I live in a culture of non-Halloweenism. I have enough nightmares about putting on bird and elf costumes in kindergarten for our yearly show for the parents. *shudder*

    • I LOVE making you laugh, A.

      Laughter makes everyone a better mother.

      Yay that I could do this for you, in exchange for the way you make me feel so special.

      Thank you. xo

  12. Oh I love these stories Alexandra. This column is fantastic!

  13. Wonderful post, as always, Alexandra! I on the other hand, had homemade costumes and wanted the store-bought ones like my friends. But no, I had CREATIVE parents and they created. I think I was: a pink fairy (Saran wrap covered, shaped wire hanger wings) A butterfly (wings made of old bedsheet, painted by Dad) a pilgrim girl, head to toe in black wool (can you say the polar opposite of princess?)… I could go on. Never Fred Flintstone though. that takes the cake, for sure.

    Also? My parents liked to dress up, too, to join in the fun while they handed out the candy. When I got to the age of embarrassment? Quel embarrassing!

    • Of course you had the home made costumes.

      And of course you wanted the store bought.

      Did you want straight hair, too?

      Me, too.

      Thanks for always being there, Varda…xo

  14. You always do such a great job of making us feel your utter embarassment but ALSO your love and admiration for your parents and your upbringing!

  15. I so wanted to write about those boxes with the noisy cellophane! And the stapled on (!) white elastic. I have such vivid memories of Halloween. My cute little brother was Caspar the same year I was Superman. That was the year I got a short boy’s haircut from the barber from hell. But I was too much of a tomboy to have worn princessy costumes anyway. I went as a bum on numerous occasions. (So much for sensitivity to the misfortunes of others.) Ah, good times. I remember running home in the ’70′s in NYC, trying not to get hit with hollowed out eggs filled with Nair hair remover.

  16. Oops. I hit send before saying how much I enjoyed your post, but I hope you could tell from the vivid memories you sparked that I loved it.

  17. Oh I remember those plastic masks with the disturbingly-large eye holes; the plastic hair swooshed across the forehead in a frozen wave of….distress? I don’t know the right word.

    I never was Fred Flintstone.

    But we of the over-forty crowd share the collective memories of costumes that smelled like nothing natural on this earth; of getting “treats” that weren’t wrapped in plastic (and we never thought about razor blades).

    It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
    Or something like that.

    But I am sorry about those pennies.
    Especially because they didn’t have metal coins back in Bedrock.


    • Don’t we have the best memories?? Before costumes became 39.99 and 59.99?

      We really do.

      Thanks for always coming by, Julie!! Means a lot to me, and I really love your comments..they’re the best.

  18. Okay, I’m sorry, but I’m laughing about the Fred Flintstone costume! Aggg, the horror!

    Your vivid details had me right there with you.

  19. Oh fucking hell.

    You are wonderful and while I’m sorry your child self had to deal with that, I’m truly enjoying reaping the benefits of your angst.

    That Colombian motto? IS MINE NOW.


    • Can I beg a cross stitch pillow out of this?

      What’s cozier than sitting on a couch with “expect revenge from everyone” greeting you before you set your butt down.

      Love you, Sunny.

  20. There are so many customs we just go with and never stop to take a step back and look at how crazy they might be.

    Even blowing out birthday candles, for an example. Light a cake on fire, spit all over it and then pass out slices?!?

    • I know.

      This made me laugh, Freakalicious, because we expect our kids to do these things: no questions asked.

      And they are so crazy!!

      Thanks for stopping by, cutie!

  21. Fred and his pennies. That’s priceless.

    For the most part, my mom made all our costumes, but I do remember having one super creep-o clown mask that was a translucent clear mask. I think it was supposed to look cute. I think about it now, and I realize that thing was straight out of a horror film. Holy crap, I hate clowns. Especially the clear plastic-faced ones. (Though, now that you mention it, my pores were looking pretty great post-Halloween that year. ;) Must be something to that whole hot-breath sauna thing.)

  22. I actually am very tempted to send Alex otu with pennies this year. Just so the adults can have some fun too (by which I mean me).

  23. Thank you so much for this Empress! I thought I got screwed on Halloween being that my mom and stepdad were cops so my sis and I were NEVER EVER allowed to Trick or Treat because there were perps everywhere. Also, we lived in a shitty neighborhood so I can’t imagine what crazy stuff we would have gotten had we been allowed to go. I’ve always been sad about this but now, well, you’ve given me much needed perspective.
    I didn’t have to go out in a Fred Flintstone mask and give strangers pennies.
    So hilarious. And beautiful!

  24. What a great read! Thank you for sharing your Halloween trauma. Reminds me of my high expectations and terrible reality of home-made costumes. Like the black cat, a last minute costume my mother would help me with, complete with eyeliner whiskers and a black tube sock of my dad’s stuffed with TP for a tail.

  25. If you were at my door, I would have been absolutely charmed by the offer of the penny….

    When I was a kid, I LOVED those costumes with the plastic faces. I don’t know why – but I preferred them over the homemade costumes.

    • Did you really?

      The one I wanted was the princess one with the blonde swirl of a bang.

      That one. The one that was always sold out to parents who planned ahead.

      Thanks for stopping by!!!!

  26. So pathetically funny my dear friend. :-)

  27. hehehe…i can relate to almost all of it, except the pennies (as far as i know, that’s not an italian thing). i am wondering if your mother allowed you to eat the candy though, because my mom made me fork it all over and then promptly threw it out because it was from strangers…

    • Yes. The Strangers. the Gypsy strangers, as my grandmother would consider them.

      I know we have lots and lots in common.

      Thanks for coming by, France, I miss your rants.

      Very much.

  28. This definitely takes me back, too. I hated those masks! It was impossible to see out of them and terribly difficult to breathe.

    Oddly enough, I can’t remember a single Halloween costume I wore, though I do remember my brother outgrowing his pumpkin costume and my mom insisting he wear it just one more time because it was so cute. I think that was the year he cried and threw a tantrum… and went out without the stem for a hat.

    Good times!

  29. What a perfect picture you paint. Excitement, embarrassment, humor, and do I detect a bit of nostalgia? Surely not.

    FWIW, I think everyone, even the shiny princesses, felt a bit awkward and out of place in their costumes. None of us really belonged to them.

    • You’re right about the Nostalgia not part.
      Nostalgia means “sick for home.”

      No, not sick for home.

      Thanks for stopping by: and this night, I can see it as if it was yesterday.

  30. LOL! Omigosh, I had the Cinderella nylon costume with that embalmed looking mask! I can still smell the material. I love the immigrant Halloween story. I can’t believe you brought along pennies;-) Halloween is so American, eh?

  31. OMG, I can still remember – so vividly! – what those pressed-plastic masks smelled like. It’s right up there with the singular smell of Christmas tree tinsel.

    A lovely and funny piece, Alexandra! Awesome!




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